Over the last ten years, bloggers have kept the issues of who controls schools at the forefront when so many big money interests want desperately to have us look the other way.
One advantage that school raiders have in taking public schools away from the public and turning them over to investor-owned charters is that the traditional news sources are hobbled from reporting accurately and fully.
On the other hand, in Oklahoma, blogs have been the spine of exposing the lies and game plan of school raiders who have used big money from investors to attack public schools and promote charter and voucher schemes.
Let’s look at the differences in blogs and the traditional, mainstream “press” or “media” when it comes to reporting about education.
The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World, Oklahoma’s two biggest metro dailies that have circulations that spread throughout the state, are each owned by fabulously wealthy individuals who live in other states and never have had any family ties to Oklahoma.
On the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people in the U.S. for 2014, Warren Buffet, whose firm Berkshire Hathaway owns the Tulsa World, is #2, and The Oklahoman’s owner, Philip Anschutz of Colorado is #42.
Forbes lists Buffet as being worth $67 billion and Anschutz as being worth a measly $42 billion.
These quite smart individuals have been purchasing large newspapers for a reason: Those companies have the potential for a good return on investment if they are operated in an efficient manner. In this case, “efficient” means that more advertising dollars are coming in than expenses that are incurred.
Anschutz, however, has been buying up a string of radio stations and newspapers and has been actively pushing his right-wing ideology through them, even though not blatantly. The Oklahoman gives appearances of being a neutral organ, but is too often caught misusing information in news stories to push a particular editorial viewpoint against public schools.
It is no secret that Anschutz is pushing corporate charter schools and attacking public schools using his growing media empire. He was the one who funded the infamous 2010 pro-charter school film Waiting for Superman, and them the 2012 pro-parent trigger film Won’t Back Down.
Clearly, the owners of large dailies are not primarily concerned about the public good, even though they may give lip service to it to gain public sympathy and attention. The appearance of nobility sells copies of the latest issue and brings clicks on their websites.
While some huge, national blogs like the Huffington Post have grown and morphed into big money-making corporate enterprises, most blogs that focus on education in Oklahoma and elsewhere do not earn a living for their owners, who often are the sole writers.
In contrast, Life at the Intersections does not have advertising or even a feature to receive donations. Neither do the blogs of my colleagues who post regularly about education.
Rob Miller’s A View from the Edge, Rick Cobb’s OkEducationTruths, Claudia Swisher’s Fourth Generation Teacher Blog, and Dallas Koehn’s Blue Cereal Education, as well as several active blogs written as journals by teachers, principals and superintendents, have no revenue streams of any kind.
We might make it into a Forbes list, but only if they had one for “People in the U.S. most likely to ask to borrow a dollar in the school lunch line.”
And even if bloggers do have ads on their site, Google’s Adwords and other services mean that the blogger does not have to explain to their advertisers why they are doing what they are doing like in newspapers that depend on direct ad sales.
Now does this make us righteous and the big dailies evil? No.
It does mean that when the big dailies and the TV stations are running a story, they are serving a different motivation than unpaid bloggers.
For the commercial media, it’s about paper issues picked up, and views on the website, which all are measured to sell more advertising. The more people who are looking, the more they might see the ad that a merchant pays for.
But it’s more than that.
There are now more and more concerted efforts to coordinate PR work by right-wing think tanks with large ad buys to local commercial media. And with newsrooms like The Oklahoman continuing to empty out, those newspapers are now more dependent on those ad dollars coordinated with think tanks that may even have former reporters on their staff as PR flacks.
The motivations of the education bloggers who I follow is to protect public schools for the sake of the public. It is to influence the conversation as a counter-balance to the financial interests that have their sights on public schools as a new market. It is in defense of those who are being attacked as never before by well-paid think tank flacks who are employed to clear the ground for privatizing public education.
It’s pretty obvious when full-time reporters for the big dailies have won us over. It’s when people on Twitter and Facebook start thanking them for doing their full-time job as if it was volunteer work.
Most telling about those “thank-you” tweets is that they show how little most of us understand about why full-time, big-media reporters do what they do.
- Yes, the best reporters love their beat.
- Yes, the best reporters are genuinely interested in the people about whom they report.
- Yes, the best reporters are interested in the subject matter that they report.
All of those things are what keep them going to beat the deadline. It’s what keeps them working hard to eliminate those pesky 27 extra words from a story that won’t fit in the print edition. It’s why they read books on the weekends not for pleasure, but because it makes them a better reporter.
Their intense interest in their subject means that they truly understand what’s happening on their beat. And for the full-time reporters with whom I’m acquainted, their passion for getting the story right is real.
Education is hot right now
Those reporters influence their editors and publishers, but let’s never forget who works for who.
Especially when it comes to education, the interest of the daily or commercial weekly for which they work has much to do with the fact that “education” gets people’s interest right now. It’s hot. There’s buzz.
Interest leads to views and issues picked up, which leads to more ad revenue. That’s it.
TV stations are assigning more reporters to cover education matters. And news organizations in Oklahoma that previously only reported on teachers who had been arrested now have full-time reporters assigned to a newly established education beat.
I can remember when the The Oklahoman used to alternate the same person back and forth from religion to education stories. Now they have a full-time reporter covering education. But, before he took this job three years ago he was a sports reporter in California. It must be a steep learning curve.
The Tulsa World has shown more consistent commitment to education reporting over the long-haul, but now they have added another full-time education beat reporter* because there is a lot of education news that people want to read. And if there are readers, they consider it to be a good financial move.
Education is hot if you are in the news business right now. But the full-time reporters who are covering it may well be covering the newest hot thing other than education in the next 5-10 years. They went to journalism school to be reporters of anything. They pride themselves on being quick studies. They get up to speed on their beat in a hurry. And then they are on to the next thing when assigned.
They aren’t volunteers, and neither are their editors who decide what they are assigned to write.
One can argue that, in addition to more education reporting in the mainstream media, there is also more education blogging right now. True.
But it’s not because there is more profit in it for bloggers. For the vast majority of us, there is no profit of a financial sort.
The profit for me and all of the education bloggers that I know is in knowing that we are coming to the defense of publicly owned, democratically controlled public education.
Our motivation and deep knowledge comes from either currently being in the classroom, or having been in the recent past, or being an administrator of a public school.
Our passion is not to help our employers turn a profit by covering what marketing research tells us we should.
Our passion is to re-establish a true public education that is democratically controlled by whole communities including rich, middle class, and poor. We want to see an education system that is socially responsible to all citizens, and authentically intellectual.
The possibility of citizen journalism
An added possibility of blogging is that now we have more digital tools that we can use to engage in citizen journalism that is not purposed with serving the bottom line of ad revenue.
The technology to bring citizen journalism to the front of this debate between public and private ownership of tax-funded schools gives bloggers an added capability that we did not have even 5 years ago.
This new possibility of blogging is what will be my focus over the next month as I think through larger possibilities of blogging about Oklahoma and national education issues.
Watch this space.
*Update, 2-23-15: According to Tulsa World education reporter Andrea Eger, the Tulsa World has had two full-time reporters for approximately 15 to 20 years. She asserts their education coverage has only changed in that they have to work harder because of increased interest.